A Small Island
The island had become our home not too long ago. It was a small island off the coast of Venezuela, just over 110 square miles, surrounded by the clear Caribbean Sea. In time we would build friendships, have commitments of service, and progress in our life goals. But not yet.
For now, my husband was in class or studying more than fulltime, and my days were filled with teaching, entertaining, and caring for our three small children. Without access to libraries or playgroups, we were left with plenty of time to fill.
We often stayed home, but several days a week we were out and about. We explored the beaches, bought our groceries, and visited the small shops in the touristy main street. And everywhere we went, we walked.
Our two oldest, ages three and five, walked on either side, as I pushed the youngest in the umbrella stroller. I mentioned it was a small island, but when you’re on foot with Littles in a hot and dusty climate, those roads can seem long. It took us no less than 45 minutes to walk to the nearest beach. The kids were troopers, but sometimes, especially on the way home, they were done walking. Done. Done. Done.
One afternoon, during one such moment of “doneness,” I began a story.
A Young Boy
“Once upon a time there was a young boy.” I told about how the young boy was resourceful and a little mischievous. I told how even when he was small, he was often left to care for himself. After telling how this young boy almost set his house on fire with firecrackers when being left one time, one of the kids asked, “Is this a true story?”
“Yes,” I answered, “A very true story.”
I continued to tell how the boy and his friends would gather empty glass bottles and exchange them for coins. One day, as times were hard back then, he had enough for an egg for breakfast. He was so grateful and so excited to eat that egg.
As the boy grew up, he became a fast runner, competing in state track.
He apprenticed with a barber and starting saving money, continuing to work for all he had.
In the outside world, war was ravaging countries. But at home, he started courting a beautiful young lady. This young woman was strong and smart. She was gorgeous and popular with all the boys, but the young man had a trick. He got to know this beautiful woman’s mother.
At this point in our story, the kids and I reached our destination.
The kids were enthralled with the simple, true story though. The next time we started walking, they asked, “Can you please tell more about the young boy.”
So I continued.
The young boy was a young man now, and really loved that beautiful young woman. One New Year’s Eve, they went to a dance. They took a break outside and the young man asked if she would marry him.
She said yes! Then she went back inside and danced with the other boys.
Our young man was so glad that she had chosen him. They were married and were especially close with her family, often going on long fishing trips.
Their young lives were interrupted one Sunday morning when they heard terrible news over the radio: America had been attacked. The war raging around the world had come home.
Our young man, like so many others, knew he had to help; he wanted to help. He signed up for the Army Air Corps. He would become a bomber pilot.
Again, we reached our destination. Again, the kids begged for more. The next outing, I continued the story.
This pattern persisted for over a week. Each outing the story continued. I enlarged it with explanations of the times and answers to the kids questions. We talked about how they would feel if they were in those different situations. Little by little my kids became invested in this young boy.
This young boy who grew to be a young man, was overseas when his first daughter was born. His wife became interested in religion as she pondered what would happen to her young family after death.
Eventually, 34 missions into his required 35, our young man was sent home to boost morale. Somebody needed to make it home alive and whole.
The young couple had another baby, a little girl. And another girl, and another, and another.
“The sixth and last baby born to this family was, guess.”
“A little girl!”
“Nope. The last baby was a little boy. And that little boy grew up, and got married, and had children. And his third baby was a little girl. Me.”
Now you, astute reader, may have guessed how this story ends, but for my kids, this was a “Bam!” Finale.
“You mean we’re related to him?!”
They were excited and astonished. They were related to this mischievous, resourceful, strong, faithful, brave young boy they had come to know.
The Power of Stories
I did not know my grandpa the young boy. I did not know my grandpa the bomber pilot or even my grandpa the airline captain. But I did because he told stories.
Join this man on his fishing boat and you will hear about the big fish, the many fish, and the fish that got away. You will hear about the grandson that jumped in after his pole and played the fish from the water.
Play a game with this man and he will inevitably put down his own cards to tell you about the time Rick Goff bid seven without even looking at his hand and won the game from behind.
Watch a WWII movie with this man, and you will find the TV paused while he tells you “how it really was.”
My grandpa is a story-teller, and I am forever grateful.
Stories Build Relationships
Just as I know the grandpa I couldn’t know in life, my kids do too. And we don’t just know him, we love him. For my kids it started on that small island, but that was only the beginning.
When we visit, the kids love to play games with Grandpa and listen to his stories, even if they have heard them before.
Helping my kids know my grandpa has increased the love they give and the love they feel.
Stories Teach Lessons
Grandpa’s stories can’t help but teach lessons of hard work, faith, and love for life. The stories teach these lessons is ways that reach the heart and stay with us.
Stories have the power to make us feel, “If you could do this, I can do it too.”
This generation lived through the Great Depression and WWII. They have watched invention change the world. They breathe gratitude. It is a generation the world should be sad to see go. However, their stories can and should strengthen and bless our lives.
The Family Story
There is something uniquely powerful about the family story. Knowing that the DNA of the man whose story I tell runs through me, somehow changes me.
I am empowered by knowing where I come from.
When I married, I inherited a new family story to add to my own. My husband’s stories of immigrants and faith add to my own.
When we tell our children their family stories, (and that includes the stories of our own lives!) we do them a huge favor. Even if those stories are not flattering, they have power.
We build ties to the past that give our children a foundation, a strength, and a depth.
Family Stories increase the love our children feel in their lives.
A Small Island, A Young Boy, and The Power of Stories
What started on that small island was a lesson for me. I learned how much my children LOVE hearing true stories and how those true stories can change all of our lives.
We no longer live on the island and we don’t walk everywhere, but we still tell stories.
I am not even a great story-teller in my own estimation, but my kids still love the stories. None of us need to be trained in the art of story-telling to share experiences.
We tell stories as we drive, when we eat, or while we lay on the grass.
That young boy has grown old. Over the years, I have loved spending time with him, listening to his stories, and making new stories of our own.
Some of my favorite stories of my own life that I love to tell and my kids love to hear are of the summer days spent at my grandparents idyllic home with a pool and a large garden. We have new fishing stories and game stories and travel stories to share.
Last weekend, my grandpa quietly slipped from this mortality onto the next chapter of his great life story.
Today, we will bury him next to his beautiful bride of 75 years.
I am not an eloquent enough or powerful enough writer to paint a complete picture of this man with his faults, idiosyncrasies, strengths, and the joy I know he felt in my existence. I cannot possibly share all the ways he and Grandma have shaped my life for good.
But I can tell his stories, so I will.
I hope you tell your stories too.